Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

The Well-Known Secret of Six
(but with a different vowel)

Today we face a very interesting topic, though it arises from only a single paragraph of Orthodoxy. It is, as you shall see when you read that paragraph, a fairly powerful word. It is, as GKC points out in the very important ILN essay for August 10, 1907 (also reprinted in All Things Considered), one of the three great secrets of all humanity. Assuming you were properly equipped when you started this little lit'ry outing, you should have in your packs a small laminated card with these three points listed upon it. You might take it out and refresh your memory:
1. Detective Story Secrets. The first is ... that of hide-and-seek, or the police novel, in which it permits privacy only in order to explode and smash privacy. The author makes first a fastidious secret of how the Bishop was murdered, only in order that he may at last declare, as from a high tower, to the whole democracy the great glad news that he was murdered by the governess. ... for its whole ultimate object is not to keep the secret, but to tell it.
2. [Today's Topic] There is a far more important class of things which humanity does agree to hide. They are so important that they cannot possibly be discussed here. But everyone will know the kind of things I mean. Upon ... such matters we are in a human freemasonry; the freemasonry is disciplined, but the freemasonry is free. We are asked to be silent about these things, but we are not asked to be ignorant about them. On the contrary, the fundamental human argument is entirely the other way. It is the thing most common to humanity that is most veiled by humanity. It is exactly because we all know that it is there that we need not say that it is there.
3. There is also a class of things on which the best civilisation does permit privacy, does resent all inquiry or explanation. This is in the case of things which need not be explained, because they cannot be explained, things too airy, instinctive, or intangible - caprices, sudden impulses, and the more innocent kind of prejudice.
[ILN Aug 10 1907 C27W524-5]
I have of course omitted the key word from point two; you can read it on your own cards. (If you have lost yours you ought to be able to think what it is rather easily. In any case you will learn it very shortly.

I have been a bit mysterious because this paragraph, and that very powerful topic, are mysterious. There will probably be some consternation about this matter; I cannot help it. All I can do is guide, and sometimes assist; it is not my path, but GKC's.

You might recall: we have been high up in the Elfland of our world, pondering the joint ideas of gratitude and of "The Doctrine of Conditional Joy". We are about to encounter a very short, but very interesting study of this - uh - certain secret. A secret known to everyone (at least over a certain age, I might add) and a wonderful, terrible, mysterious secret - one entirely bound up with this idea of "conditional joy".

Click here to proceed.

You may recall that last time I told you how even the most liberal of left-wing writers are incredibly conservative and tradition-bound - whenever they touch pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and strive to bring their thoughts into one of the human languages known to others.

Yes, then even anarchists who disdain law, even rebels who hate all such things, bind themselves to powerful and utterly arbitrary rules, set long ago by people who most likely had no idea what they were doing. But unless they, like you and I, so bind themselves, they shall by no means have any possibility of communicating to others! Yes, for they cannot rebel against the alphabet.

If you do not believe me: you could find no stronger prohibition in any religion than those which are propounded to us by technology. No, they are far stronger, and much more intransigent. Without power you cannot boot your computer. Without a connection to a network you cannot do any - er - of the network things (I mean like e-mail or web pages). And without the magic password you cannot (for example) post on a blogg or even "log on" to a system. You cannot "choose" another way; there is no other way. You are bound to the alphabet called ASCII and its mysteries - which represent 01000001 as "A" and 01100001 as "a" and so forth! If your password wants a small "a" you cannot get away with a capital "A", no matter how much of a rebel you are. Indeed, even if you do not understand this code, even if you reject this code, unless you downshift and become like lower-case characters, you shall by no means enter the domain of the system...

There is another alphabet, written into nearly every cell of each human being. It is written in two letters, or rather a pair of letters: XX or XY. (I say nearly every, because the erythrocytes, or red blood cells are celibate. They have no nucleus, no chromosomes, no DNA. See here for more.) We are bound to that alphabet as well. Now, perhaps you will grasp what that secret is all about, and if not, you will find it clearly stated in GKC's next paragraph from Orthodoxy:
For this reason (we may call it the fairy godmother philosophy) I never could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the general sentiment of revolt. I should have resisted, let us hope, any rules that were evil, and with these and their definition I shall deal in another chapter. But I did not feel disposed to resist any rule merely because it was mysterious. Estates are sometimes held by foolish forms, the breaking of a stick or the payment of a peppercorn: I was willing to hold the huge estate of earth and heaven by any such feudal fantasy. It could not well be wilder than the fact that I was allowed to hold it at all. At this stage I give only one ethical instance to show my meaning. I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind. The aesthetes touched the last insane limits of language in their eulogy on lovely things. The thistledown made them weep; a burnished beetle brought them to their knees. Yet their emotion never impressed me for an instant, for this reason, that it never occurred to them to pay for their pleasure in any sort of symbolic sacrifice. Men (I felt) might fast forty days for the sake of hearing a blackbird sing. Men might go through fire to find a cowslip. Yet these lovers of beauty could not even keep sober for the blackbird. They would not go through common Christian marriage by way of recompense to the cowslip. Surely one might pay for extraordinary joy in ordinary morals. Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.
--Dr. Thursday


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Brilliant! Thank you for another insightful post, Dr Thursday.


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